Hult Prize teams create ideas for sustainable business projects

Each year, Augie students form teams to create business plans as part of the Hult Prize competition, and while a $1 million prize hangs in participants’ minds, the business ideas created by Augie students are beneficial even without the prize money.

“Hult Prize makes sure those two groups — the employers that are looking for innovation and passionate students — are connected,” Taha Afzal, a sophomore who is campus director of the Hult Prize club, said.

The 2020 challenge “Bold Business for a Better Planet” asks students to create businesses that will create a more sustainable environment while being profitable.

“One of the other requirements for the Hult Prize is that it should impact 1 million lives in a decade,” Afzal, who is a sophomore computer science and data science major, said.

Participants learn how to work in a team, build a plan, manage a project and create original ideas, according to Matthew Willard, an assistant professor of business administration, who is beginning his first year as the faculty adviser for the Hult Prize club.

“It exposed me to business in a way I had not been before,” Taisya Gowlovech, a junior on the club’s leadership team said. “Because I’m a business minor, it’s always been very textbook, and I think to be able to apply the skills that you learn and actually be able to create something is really fun.”

At an informational meeting about the Hult Prize, senior Sara Telahun Birhe listed several current businesses as examples for the challenge, including reusable delivery packaging, bioplastics or even Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper.”

“It’s a big deal, so if we can come up with businesses built on sustainability that are in fact sustainable businesses, that would be a big win,” Willard said. “I think it would be a really cool thing to do here at Augie.”

Willard said participants do not have to be business majors but could have any major, from chemistry to art.

“I think it’s better if it’s more interdisciplinary,” Willard said.

Augustana hosts the competition for its teams. The winner of the competition improves their business plan by networking with local businesses before attending the regional competition during March in San Francisco, California or Washington, D.C.

“There are brilliant minds at Augie, so I would really want them to take the word out and make sure they’re representing Augie in the right manner,” Afzal said.

After the competition, top placing teams  move on to the summer 2020 “accelerator round” in London.  The finalists of the accelerator round participate in the final round of competition next September at the United Nations in New York City. The winner takes $1 million in startup funding.

Afzal said networking benefits participants at any stage in the competition by providing professional advice for growing a business, being professional and effectively communicating an idea.

“It’s really good, not only for the resumé, but also to network with people and to step out of the comfort zone,” Afzal said.

Gowlovech said getting feedback from mentors in Sioux Falls helped her learn last year.

“I think hearing from professionals, especially within the Sioux Falls community who understand how the business aspect works in Sioux Falls, is very valuable,” Gowlovech said.

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